Wisconsin football: Resetting expectations after Week 1 while waiting on Graham Mertz's latest COVID test
NOTE: According to reports, Graham Mertz tested positive for the coronavirus, but a report also stated that Wisconsin has experienced a decent number of false positive tests. For the purposes of this article, we are operating under the idea of Mertz continuing to play as we await his next round of test results.
As @jaypo1961 reported, Wisconsin has had several false positive tests since beginning antigen testing. I’ve heard the same from people at other Big Ten programs about antigen testing. PCR test is more reliable.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 25, 2020
The Wisconsin Badgers were among the biggest stories of the B1G opening weekend. While it wasn’t too surprising to see the team handle an Illinois Fighting Illini squad that came in as nearly 3-touchdown underdogs, for the first time since Russell Wilson it can be confidently stated that Wisconsin has itself a game-changer at quarterback with redshirt freshman Mertz.
Mertz took over for Jack Coan, who started last season but injured his foot during fall camp, and completed 20 of 21 passes in Friday night’s 45-7 win in his first start as a college quarterback. The 95.2 completion percentage was a school record, and he tied program records with 5 touchdown passes and 17 consecutive completions.
While we knew Mertz chose Wisconsin despite being offered scholarships by the best programs in the country, the college football world had not seen him play any meaningful minutes. His two games last season came in blowouts
With Wisconsin finally finding a true difference-maker at quarterback, it seems fair to reset expectations. College football lends itself to overreaction and to constantly adjusting opinions. Even in a normal schedule, it has the shortest season of any major sport, and a single loss is way more crucial.
With that, what should fans expect for the Badgers the rest of the way?
A trip to Indianapolis
Maybe fans had this on their minds already. But after the first week, Wisconsin solidified themselves as the favorite to win the B1G West, and the Badgers have the best chance to represent the division in the conference title game in December. If you look at what happened around the division on Saturday, things certainly went the Badgers’ way for the most part.
For many, the B1G West came down to whether Wisconsin or Minnesota could take control. The Badgers certainly did their part with Friday’s win, and they looked incredible in the process. The Golden Gophers were dismantled by Michigan 49-24 at home on Saturday night.
Elsewhere in the division, Iowa is always a solid program, but they suffered a 24-20 loss to Purdue, who were without star wide receiver Rondale Moore and head coach Jeff Brohm. That’s not a good sign for the Hawkeyes. The Boilermakers are in the division, but does anyone see them as a threat to win it?
To the extent they were a contender, Nebraska got crushed by Ohio State, while Northwestern looked much improved with a 43-3 victory over Maryland, though the Wildcats are still a team coming off a 3-9 season.
An undefeated regular season
This is another thing that some may already have had in their minds heading into the eight-game regular season. Wisconsin should be favored in every game this season, with the possible exception of Michigan on the road.
The Badgers avoid Penn State and Ohio State on the regular-season schedule, and they get Minnesota at home. It should be looked at as a disappointment if Wisconsin cannot run through their regular-season slate unscathed.
Mertz Heisman chatter
Again, there’s no such thing as overreacting in an eight-game regular season. Mertz very likely will not win it no matter how well he plays. He had zero preseason Heisman hype, since he was not expected to even be a starting quarterback.
However, if the Badgers run the table in the regular season and find a way to win the B1G title game, Mertz could very well be involved in the discussion, assuming he’s a major reason Wisconsin reached new heights.
A better shot at Ohio State
While Wisconsin should be considered the favorites in the B1G West, Ohio State is the top dog in the East. The Buckeyes will be a very difficult team to beat, and they are among the favorites to win the College Football Playoff. To beat a great team in college football, top-level quarterback play matters now more than ever, and Wisconsin appears to have that.
Keep in mind, Wisconsin jumped out to a 21-7 lead over the Buckeyes in last year’s conference title game with Coan, who is solid but doesn’t have the playmaking ability Mertz appears to have early in his career.